What makes Malbec special? Find out all about Malbec wine before buying a bottle.
Its complex yet approachable fruit flavors and intense aromas make Malbec a favorite among red wine lovers. Although it has been used as a blending partner in French wines, it’s the Argentine expression that has become hugely popular over the last two decades.
How did this French grape become Argentina’s most celebrated grape variety? How does the wine taste?
In this article, discover the world of Malbec wine - its colorful history, unique winemaking, magnificent wine regions, and the best Malbec wines to buy in 2021.
Also, find out a hassle-free way to buy and invest in these delicious red wines.
This Article Contains
- What is Malbec Wine?
- A Brief History of Malbec
- Malbec Grape: Climate, Terroir
- Malbec Viticulture and Winemaking
- Malbec Vs. Merlot and Pinot Noir
- Malbec Wine Regions
- Malbec Wine Styles
- Malbec Wine Taste and Food Pairings
- Best Malbec Wines to Buy in 2021 (Including Tasting Notes, Prices)
- 2010 Tiano & Nareno Travesía 1908, Mendoza, Argentina
- 2003 Château Lagrézette Le Pigeonnier, France
- 2014 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Chañares Estate Malbec, Tunuyán, Argentina
- 2012 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'Mundus Bacillus Terrae' Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina
- 2009 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Marchiori Estate Malbec, Perdriel, Argentina
- 2012 Cloudburst Malbec, Margaret River, Australia
- 2012 Devil Proof Malbec, Alexander Valley, USA
- 2009 Georges Vigouroux Château de Haute-Serre 'Icône', Cahors, France
- 2016 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'River Stones' Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina
- 2016 PerSe 'Iubileus,’ Gualtallary, Argentina
What is Malbec Wine?
Malbec is a dark-skinned grape that produces full-bodied, deep purplish-red, almost opaque wines. The grape is mostly grown in Cahors (France) and Mendoza (Argentina.)
Unlike other famous reds like Merlot and Pinot Noir, Malbec wine has high alcohol levels of up to 15% ABV and medium tannin levels. It is enjoyed for its strong fruity flavor and intense leather and spice notes.
Malbec is also a common blending grape for Bordeaux blend wines with Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.
Let’s see how it all started.
A Brief History of Malbec
Known with different names like Cot and Pressac, the earliest mentions of Malbec are found as Auxerrois in 16th-century records. It was named ‘Malbec’ in the 1780s when it was planted in the Bordeaux region by a Hungarian peasant Monsieur Malbeck.
Malbec was widely planted in Cahors and Bordeaux, where it was known as Cot. But for a long time, Malbec wines remained in the shadow of high-quality Bordeaux wines. That’s because, at the time, Malbec wines reached England through the Bordeaux markets.
The Bordeaux winemakers refused to sell Malbec wines from Cahors before they sold off their stock. As a result, Malbec wines were sold as cheap table wines, and Cahors vineyards started depleting.
They were further affected by the 1956 frost that destroyed 75% of Malbec vines. Unlike Bordeaux, where the vignerons gave up on this “disloyal” grape, Cahors winemakers replanted most of the vineyards.
Michel Pouget (French agronomist) saved this dying French grape variety by taking it to the Mendoza region on 17th April 1853 at Domingo Faustino Sarmiento’s (the President of Argentina) request. Today, this day is celebrated as World Malbec Day.
For some time, Argentine Malbec wines remained easy-drinking table wines. It wasn’t until the 20th century when Argentina’s economy finally stabilized. This allowed winemakers to invest in their wine estates and focus on more sophisticated barrel-aged wines.
These Malbecs were so structured and complex that they instantly became a hit worldwide!
Wondering why the grape wasn’t as successful in France as it became in Argentina? The answer lies in the environmental conditions of these regions.
Malbec Grape: Climate, Terroir
Malbec is a difficult grape to grow - the reason why it wasn’t so successful in France.
It is susceptible to pests, fungal diseases like coulure, rot, and frost during the growing season. This made it tough to revive after the 1956 frost of Bordeaux.
However, Argentina’s hot and dry climate and arid soils are best suited for Malbec vines. In Cahors AOC, the grape variety is planted on high altitude hilltops, so the vine plantings receive maximum sunlight.
As for soil, Malbec grapes grow best in calcareous or clay-limestone soils.
Viticulture and Winemaking
Malbec wines are often blended with other red grape varieties like Tannat, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon to produce lighter and rustic wines with dark fruit flavors.
In Cahors, the wines must have at least 70% Malbec grapes in the wine, with the rest being Tannat or Merlot. On the other hand, in Argentina, the winemaker can experiment with his Malbec blends to produce more rich and savory wines with red fruit flavors.
Climate is another major factor that affects Malbec wines. For instance, cold climate and high altitude wines have more cherry flavor, while the wines from warm temperatures have dark berry and black fruit notes.
In addition to this, Malbec wines are usually aged in oak barrels to add more structure to the wine, which gives them a good aging potential.
Store your wine right with this easy guide to designing your own wine cellar.
How does Malbec wine compare to other famous red wines?
Malbec Vs. Merlot and Pinot Noir
Often compared to Merlot and Pinot Noir, there’s no doubt that Malbec shares a few characteristics of the two grape varieties. Both Merlot and Malbec produce easy-drinking wines. Also, like Pinot Noir, Malbec is a difficult grape to cultivate.
That said, Malbec wines have some distinct characteristics.
What is the difference between Merlot and Malbec?
- Compared to Merlot, Malbec is lighter with more fruit flavors and acidity.
- In the glass, Merlot displays a ruby red color in contrast to Malbec’s inky purple body.
- Major Merlot grape regions include Bordeaux in France, California and Oregon in the United States, and Salta in Chile.
What is the difference between Pinot Noir and Malbec?
- Malbec wine is heavier than Pinot Noir and has a less aromatic complexity.
- Compared to the opaque Malbec wine, Pinot Noir has a translucent red color.
- Although both grapes originated in France, Malbec is mostly grown in Patagonia, Cahors, South Africa, and New Zealand. On the other hand, Pinot Noir remains the star grape of France, with Champagne, Burgundy, Alsace, and Loire Valley being the key regions.
Malbec Wine Regions
Let’s take a look at the significant Malbec wine-producing regions of the world.
As we’ve seen, French Malbec mostly comes from Cahors, a southwest wine appellation of the country. Cahors’ Malbec wines are known for their medium tannin and rustic leathery notes. Cahors wines have fewer fruit flavors than Argentinian Malbec.
Even though Malbec is not as widely grown in the Bordeaux region, it is a key blending grape in the famous Bordeaux Blend. With Malbec, the Bordeaux blend also contains Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot grapes.
Besides southwest France, Malbec is also used in small quantities in the Loire Valley and the Le Midi region of Languedoc appellation.
The Mendoza sub-regions (especially the Uco Valley and Luján de Cuyo) produce the country’s highest quality Malbec wines.
In the Uco Valley (including Altamira), Syrah and Cabernet Franc may be added to the red blend to give it a Bordeaux wine texture. In Lujan de Cuyo, Cabernet Sauvignon is used as a blending grape.
Unlike France, Argentinian Malbec wines are known for their high acidity, intense fruit flavor, and firm tannins.
The other major Malbec wine regions of the country are Salta, La Rioja, Patagonia, Catamarca and Buenos Aires.
3. United States
Malbec’s growth in the United States was slow and steady. Interest towards Malbec grew when it was used in Meritage wines (Bordeaux red blends.)
During this time, Malbec varietals from California also started to gain popularity, and the grape was soon competing with other significant varietal wines like Merlot.
The major Malbec wine regions in the US include Napa Valley and Sonoma Valley. Other than this, Malbec plantings are also seen in Oregon, Washington State, New Jersey, and New York.
4. Other Regions
Malbec wines are also produced in Chile, Australia, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, and Canada.
Also read: Explore delicious sparkling wine from across the globe!
Malbec Wine Styles
Malbec wine can be either a varietal or a blend of various red grapes.
- Varietal: Malbec varietals are dry, full-bodied, and have supple tannins. They offer pure Malbec flavors of leather, dark fruit, black cherry, and cocoa.
- Blends: Malbec is also blended with other grape varieties to make the wine more complex and, sometimes, light. Tannat is added to give the wine a rustic flavor while combining it with Merlot produces lighter and easy-drinking red wines.
Malbec Wine Taste and Food Pairings
Malbec wine has primary black fruit flavors like black cherry and blackberry with dark fruit notes like pomegranate, plum, raspberry, and blueberry. Depending on barrel aging, you will get coffee, leather, black pepper, gravel, sweet tobacco, and cocoa flavors.
Pair your Terrazas de Los Andes Reserva and other Malbecs with barbequed red meat dishes, chimichurri sauce, and blue cheese.
Also read: Looking for sweet wine? Here is a detailed guide to delectable Moscato wine.
Best Malbec Wines to Buy in 2021 (Including Tasting Notes, Prices)
Here’s a list of our favorite Malbec wines to collect in 2021.
1. 2010 Tiano & Nareno Travesía 1908, Mendoza, Argentina
A rich and intense Argentine wine, this 2010 vintage showcases the silky and smooth texture of a Bordeaux wine. The nose is layered and complex with notes of espresso, dark chocolate, blackberries, raspberries, and black pepper. The palate is dry and has silky tannins.
Price of 2010 Tiano & Nareno Travesía 1908, Mendoza, Argentina: $320
2. 2003 Château Lagrézette Le Pigeonnier, France
The nose of this French Malbec opens to a dark plum aroma with hints of blackberries and mocha. The palate has bold tannins with notes of oak aging.
Price of 2003 Château Lagrézette Le Pigeonnier, France: $407
3. 2014 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Chañares Estate Malbec, Tunuyán, Argentina
This 2014 vintage by Vina Cobos is still evolving and has a youthful appearance. This Argentinian wine carries loads of dark cassis and deep scents. The nose showcases herbaceous notes with hints of dark cherry, vanilla, chocolate, and clove.
Price of 2014 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Chañares Estate Malbec, Tunuyán, Argentina: $300
Also read: Serve your Malbec and other red wines right using the perfect wine glass.
4. 2012 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'Mundus Bacillus Terrae' Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina
The 2012 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'Mundus Bacillus Terrae' is a 100% Malbec wine fermented in French oak for 24 months. This Argentine wine has a brisk acidity and is packed with bold tannins that give it great age-ability. The palate is bold and structured with hints of dark fruit, black pepper, and leather.
Price of 2012 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'Mundus Bacillus Terrae' Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina: $351
5. 2009 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Marchiori Estate Malbec, Perdriel, Argentina
A rich and intense Argentinian wine from Mendoza, the 2009 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Marchiori Estate Malbec is a must-try drink for every wine enthusiast.
In the glass, this Argentine Malbec has a deep purple color. The nose gives off black cherry, oak, and mineral aroma with slightly herbaceous notes. The palate is perfectly balanced with chewy tannins, dark fruit flavors, and sweet spice with a long finish - a perfect pair with blue cheese.
Price of 2009 Vina Cobos 'Cobos' Marchiori Estate Malbec, Perdriel, Argentina: $380
6. 2012 Cloudburst Malbec, Margaret River, Australia
Only 422 bottles of this Cloudburst Malbec were produced in 2012. The wine is medium to full-bodied with velvety tannins and oak notes. The nose gives off cassis, vanilla, and cedar aromas.
Price of 2012 Cloudburst Malbec, Margaret River, Australia: $256
Also read: How to estimate the calories in your red wine glass.
7. 2012 Devil Proof Malbec, Alexander Valley, USA
The 2012 Devil Proof Malbec is full of dark fruit flavors and oak aging notes. The wine is slightly sweet on the palate with silky tannins, ripe plum and dark cherry notes, and a spicy aftertaste.
Price of 2012 Devil Proof Malbec, Alexander Valley, USA: $240
8. 2009 Georges Vigouroux Château de Haute-Serre 'Icône', Cahors, France
In the glass, the wine displays a deep inky color with a purple rim. The nose of this French Malbec is strong and complex, with dominant notes of plum, cherry, and blackcurrant. The palate is dry with intense fruit flavors.
Price of 2009 Georges Vigouroux Château de Haute-Serre 'Icône', Cahors, France: $280
9. 2016 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'River Stones' Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina
The 2016 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'River Stones' is a bold and structured Malbec wine with refreshing acidity. This barrel-fermented Argentine wine is full of dark and red fruits and black pepper notes. That’s why it is best to have it with a lean red meat dish and blue cheese that will complement its flavors.
Price of 2016 Catena Zapata Adrianna Vineyard 'River Stones' Malbec, Gualtallary, Argentina: $171
10. 2016 PerSe 'Iubileus,’ Gualtallary, Argentina
A bold and structured red wine from Mendoza, the 2016 PerSe 'Iubileus’ is predominantly a Malbec wine with a splash of Cabernet Franc. The nose of this Argentine Malbec has a perfumed dark fruit bouquet of black cherry and blueberry. On the palate, you will notice a rustic acidity.
Price of 2016 PerSe 'Iubileus,’ Gualtallary, Argentina : $185
Should You Invest in Malbec Wine?
Most Malbecs are easy-drinking wines that are meant to be drunk young (within 2-5 years). But it is not impossible to find some high-quality Malbec red wine that would perform great in your cellar.
Producers like Vina Cobos and Achaval Ferrer focus on making sophisticated structured wines that can age for 10-20+ years.
The biggest advantage of investing in Argentine Malbecs is that the winemakers are continuously innovating on winemaking techniques, and the wines are much more affordable than French and Italian collectibles. Also, since the top wineries release only a few hundred to thousand bottles of fine vintages, the scarcity will lead to price hikes in the future.
But how do you get your hands on the right bottle?
Here’s the easiest way out:
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Discover the World of Wine Investment
Malbec wines are perfect to have on a chilly winter night and at a Sunday dinner. If you can find the right age-worthy bottle, it can also be a valuable asset to your wine cellar.
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